The Memo: Boebert’s antics seen as new sign of politics’ decline
Rep. Lauren Boebert’s (R-Colo.) heckling of President Biden during Tuesday’s State of the Union address was the latest example of a political culture that has turned crude and cruel — and yet it probably won’t do Boebert much harm at all.
Figures like Boebert have learned how to thrive in a media and political ecosystem that often rewards the most belligerent voices. They enjoy prodigious fundraising, large social media followings and a peculiar brand of fame — even as their behavior earns eyerolls from many of their colleagues.
Meanwhile, some people who witnessed a different era on Capitol Hill look on with horror.
“What happened last night is beyond inexcusable,” former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) told this column on Wednesday, referring to Boebert’s antics.
“First off, you owe the president of the United States deference whether you agree with him — or her — or not. It’s not because you are giving deference to the person, but because you are giving deference to the most important office in the most important democracy in the world.”
But the landscape that Gregg inhabited as a senator — first elected in 1992, he left office after the 2010 elections — has been fundamentally altered, as Tuesday night showed.
Biden was talking about cancers suffered by American soldiers that ended up putting them in “a flag-draped coffin” when Boebert yelled out, “You put them in — 13 of them.”
The allusion was to U.S. troops killed during the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan.
The intervention drew gasps for its general incivility — and because lawmakers and everyone else with an advance copy of Biden’s remarks knew that he would refer in the very next sentence to the death of his son.
The late Beau Biden, who served in Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard and also served as attorney general of Delaware, died of brain cancer in 2015, age 46.
His father, the president, did not react to Boebert’s interruption during Tuesday’s State of the Union.
But the behavior is hardly unusual for the Coloradan, who has previously targeted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) with Islamophobic remarks.
At another point during Biden’s address Tuesday, Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has her own record of wild claims and deliberately provocative behavior, tried to start a chant of former President Trump’s slogan “Build the Wall!”
Despite the backlash in the chamber and beyond, Boebert was — predictably — unwilling to back down on Wednesday.
“The left is pissed because I called out Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that left 13 of America’s finest in a flag-draped coffin. They are mad because a speech was ‘interrupted,’” she tweeted. “Ask the families who lost their loved ones how interrupted their lives are now.”
Greene’s official Twitter account — her personal account has been permanently banned for repeated violations pertaining to COVID-19 misinformation — on Wednesday retweeted a video of herself calling for “a revival of unity and faith” that would involve Americans putting aside “the politics of race and division.”
Immediately beneath that tweet was one impugning Biden’s mental acuity.
Greene’s purported desire to transcend racial divisions did not prevent her from recently speaking at a conference organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
Greene’s involvement in that event, also attended by yet another GOP firebrand, Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.), caused Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to lament “I’ve got morons on my team” during a Sunday interview with CNN.
Morons or not, there is a market for the scorched-earth approach favored by Boebert, Gosar and Greene.
Greene, who is in her first term, had raised almost $7.5 million for her reelection race by the end of last year, according to OpenSecrets.
Boebert has almost 900,000 Twitter followers.
There is also the question of how GOP colleagues grapple or enable this type of behavior.
In November, Gosar became the first member of the House in more than a decade to be formally censured after he tweeted an animated video in which a figure made to look like him killed a cartoon version of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Just two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) — near-outcasts within the GOP caucus because of their forceful condemnations of former President Trump — joined Democrats in voting to censure Gosar.
Republican leadership was more forceful regarding Greene’s and Gosar’s appearances at the Fuentes-organized conference, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) calling it “unacceptable.” When McCarthy was asked about it a day later on camera, however, he declined to comment further.
Democrats, to be sure, have exhibited some questionable behavior of their own.
Omar apologized in 2019 for earlier antisemitic tweets. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) the previous year called on members of the public to harass members of Trump’s then-Cabinet if they saw them out in public.
Gregg, the former senator, said he saw the beginnings of the slide into incivility before he left Congress. He cited the ferocity of Democratic attacks on former President George W. Bush.
Still, even some Republicans note that the destructive flames seem to burn with more intensity on their side.
Olivia Troye, who served in the Trump administration but resigned in its final days and became a vigorous critic, said on Twitter Wednesday that figures like Boebert and Greene were “extremist trash” who were “embarrassing our country” with their actions during the State of the Union speech.
GOP strategist Dan Judy told this column that bad behavior “occurs on both sides, but I think it has been more concentrated on the Republican side since Donald Trump came on the scene, because incendiary rhetoric is his stock-in-trade.”
Judy suggested the only real way to break the cycle was for such figures to suffer electoral consequences. He noted Greene faces a primary challenge this cycle.
But, for now, the main emotion among more moderate figures is frustration.
“It’s really a shame that you have people like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene who are fools. They’re fools,” Judy said. “But they clearly calculated these outbursts and they calculated for a reason — to get attention, to get on TV and to raise money.”
If past form is anything to go by, it’s almost certain to work.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.